The Ethics Commission will consider a series of proposed amendments to its new rules during upcoming meetings that will be submitted to the Legislature for consideration in 2015.
The commission held a series of public meetings in 2013 before submitting a completely rewritten version of its rules to the Legislature at the start of the 2014 session. Those rules were adopted when the Legislature did not take action to disapprove or amend them before adjourning sine die. These new rules, largely, do not take effect until Jan. 1, 2015, to allow the current election cycle to be completed under one consistent set of guidelines.
"I think we are going to need to consider some amendments to those rules to be considered in 2015," Ethics Commissioner Executive Director Lee Slater told the commissioners during their meeting Friday.
Slater said several specific issues had been brought to his attention, including the treatment of political parties, the commission's abilities to assess fees and possible punishments for those who commit mid-level rules infractions.
Under the current rules, Slater explained, political parties are treated like political action committees, "…but they are not the same kind of creature."
Political parties, Slater said, are continuing, where many PACS exist only for a limited time. The structure of political parties also is very different, he added, with subdivisions at the congressional and county levels.
Slater said he intended to meet with representatives of the Oklahoma Republican and Democratic parties to solicit their ideas for an appropriate approach and to discuss any other problems they have with the rules.
Slater said the Ethics Commission has the authority to assess fees for training and for the registration of lobbyists, legislative liaisons, PACs and other entities, although it does not currently do so. "I think we need to consider enacting some sort of fees or a fee scheduled to recover some of those costs," he said.
Slater said the commission deals with rules violations on a broad continuum, minor infractions that often result from filing errors that can be corrected and warrant no punishment to the deliberate and severe that can be pursued in district court. "It's in the vast middle where we've got a problem," said Slater.
Slater said he believed the commission has the constitutional authority to assess administrative fines. Before it can do that, he said, it will be necessary to establish an administrative hearing process.
"We need something beyond correcting (an error) but less than going to court," Slater said.
Slater said some other individual issues that have been raised include:
- Better ways to address frivolous complaints and requiring some level of evidence to accompany an allegation;
- Reporting mechanism related to conference attendance;
- Adjustments and clarification of the time periods associated with closing one campaign account and opening another;
- Modifying reporting requirements for associate district and district judge candidates to conform with the Code of Judicial Conduct;
- Modifying reporting requirements associated with the food and beverage exemption.
The food and beverage exemption permits lobbyists to provide food and beverages to legislators and others as long as the entire Legislature is invited. The sponsors, however, are required to report the full cost of the event, not simply the cost associated with each legislator.
"Some of these events are huge," said Slater, and the current reporting requirement makes it appear more is being spent on legislators than is actually the case.
The commission plans to take up amendments in each individual area in each of its meetings through the remainder of the year. A specific schedule for the amendments' consideration, however, has not yet been established.
In other business, the commission will hold a public hearing in August to discuss what information will be made available online for the financial disclosure report some state officers and employees are required to file.
Commission Chair Kathy Stoker, who was absent from Friday's meeting, is concerned that some of the information required on the forms, such as home address, could be too revealing, Slater said. With new software to be implemented in 2015, that information will be available publicly online, he noted.
Interested parties will be invited to address the issue at the August 15 meeting, Slater said, as well as members of the public who would like to do so.